How to Move Time Within OODA

by Aaron on January 6, 2012

I like thinking about timing, and I’ve recently done a little bit of thinking about marketing, so here’s my all-in post on timing. If you want me to continue writing on the subject, share this with your friends, because I’ll start focusing my attention elsewhere unless this goes awesome.


And without further ado…


OODA is cool. Timing is cool.


You observe what’s going on, orient yourself to figure out what it means (and reevaluate your observations), decide what to do, act, and then look at the results.


There are lots of implications, and ways that you can play with it. I’ll talk about the ones I learned about.


How frequently you can observe things changes how frequently you act.


If you go through an OODA loop every time you act, you can’t act without observing, unless you want to shoot blind. More on that later.


One of the biggest differences between now and about this time last month is the pace of the project. And I think that Observation speed is a major cause of that.


When we were putting together the book, I could get feedback on the organizational structure by just rereading sections in the new order. This would take like, 10 minutes. I could get faster feedback by skimming, and cut that down to minutes. By the time the book was over, I could recall posts on the order of seconds.


If I wanted someone else’s opinion, I could talk with them about it. If I wanted them to directly observe the book, this would normally take a few hours. If I skipped to sharing my Orientation, I could get feedback from other people in like half an hour if they were online.


Now, we’re trying to build relationships with allies over email, and write posts to get people to come on the site and build awareness.


This takes a while. Like, as a rule of thumb I expect an email with someone to take like, a day, unless I respond to them within an hour.


Still though, things seem to be maxed out at one meaningful Observation a day. It takes a while to find out if a post works, or if something is scheduled, and it takes a while for things to come up. So the project slowed down.


You can precompute steps.


I previously talked about speeding up your actions by cutting down on Orientation and Decision making.


Sebastian is really good at this. One of the most interesting things about working with him is that he really quickly has an interpretation of what’s going on, even if he doesn’t have that much information. For instance, everyone on the project was mailing back and forth about title names and different marketing angles and considerations, and we kind of didn’t know what would work. We had reasons for thinking things, and we would need to test them out. Then all the sudden Sebastian would come in and say something that made sense, and we would all change our minds.


Basically, he’s able to decrease the amount of time needed to Observe and Orient.


But he’s not pulling it out of his ass. Most of the time, he’s right about what’s happening and what we should do, or at least more right. Posts with his influence do better. His marketing efforts get farther.


But you still need information in order to accurately know what’s going on. You can’t covary without getting bits in. Where do his bits come from?


Principles. Where do those come from?


Experience. He just has more of it than we do. He’s done lots of projects, and reads ridiculous amounts of history. He already has a lot of information and Observations about things that happen, and has already Oriented himself with regards to those.


He now gets to reuse Orientations. Assuming that things work similarly to the way he did with his other observational data, he needs less time to Observe and Orient.


Living on Principle basically just lets you decide everything faster.


You can trade time between steps.


There are 24 hours in a day, and you can never, ever, get any more.


But you can change how many OODA loops you get in a day.


For instance, you can spend less time Orienting and Deciding, fire more randomly, but be able to cram in more observations. This is basically the “fire bullets, then cannonballs” strategy.


If your Orientation or Decisions aren’t very good, then this is probably what you should be doing. If something works, you just need to figure out why, then repeat it.


If you’re inexperienced and thus your Orientation and Decisions are a bit funky, then you really should be doing this. It gets you the Observations you need in order to build up a framework of what’s going on, and doesn’t overfit to your previous training data.


If you have lots of experience, you can just live on Principle, and see how well they work. Combining strong principles with lots of shots, and you can get success and more data at the same time.


You can substitute steps.


Sometimes though, the Observations limit your speed.


For instance, a decision might need input from someone else. What can you do then?


What I did a lot was trade off Observing their actual response and spending more time Orienting myself to possible answers. I would try and predict what they would say, then tell them that I was guessing that in the email.


If my confidence of my prediction and the utility of the action were both high, then I could just act on that default assumption. If it was correct, then yay, if not, then oops.


Another possibility is just to consider both answers, and do what you would do in either case.


Observations can substitute Orientations or Decisions by just letting you try lots of things, then see what what works.


Orientations can substitute Observations by using previous data.


Orientations can substitute Decisions by filtering out information. (This one seems riskier than others)


Decisions can substitute Observations via precommitments.


Playing around with this is left as an exercise to the reader.



Orientation, Decision, and Speed in OODA

by Aaron on January 5, 2012

The OODA Loop is pretty useful for thinking about various things. Today I’m going to explain how we did things quickly in putting together Ikigai, through the lens of OODA.


We did Ikigai really fast by publishing standards. In a week to be exact.


When you go through the OODA loop, you observe what’s happening, then orient yourself to figure out what it means. Once you know what’s happening, you can decide what to do, then act.


Assuming you only act after you observe, orient, and decide, the speed at which you can act is dictated by the speed at which you observe, orient, and decide.


The orientation and decision are entirely based pretty much on you. Your emotional state, your analytic ability, the mental frameworks you use, etc.


How do you orient more quickly?


You can copy precedent, apply frameworks from before, become more tolerant of errors, etc. I personally favor developing frameworks during my non-rushed time, but that’s just me.


I can’t say how useful finding precedent and frameworks are. One of the best reasons to study history is to know what’s possible, and how things happened. For instance, most of the transitions between centralized and decentralized information empires were caused by law suits, and I never knew that before. I’m planning a post comparing the historical precedent of other information industries and publishing.


Sebastian has tons of precedent and frameworks behind him, and it shows. I’d be clueless and trying to think through things, and then he’d just email with what he thinks we should do, why we should do it, and a rule he learned from doing things before. One of the most important parts of experience is that it clues you into what’s happening faster than you would be able to if you didn’t know how things ended before.


How do you decide more quickly?


This is hard, because it involves way more emotional stuff.


I think that most people have issues with committing to plans of action. There are plenty of things that will divide your focus and sap your resolve.

  • You’re attached to your current plan of action, even if it’s not particularly working right now. Slowly allowing things to fall apart is often less painful than admitting you’re wrong, for some reason. You can’t look forward because you’re stuck in the past.
  • You’re afraid of what happens if you mess up. You can’t commit to a plan because you’re afraid of failing.
  • You’re afraid of succeeding.
  • You’re afraid of responsibility.
  • You’re worried it will look bad.

How do you beat that?


Having clear goals helps a lot. If you can avoid identifying with your plans and ask the question “Does this get me what I’m aiming for?”, your decisions will happen a lot faster. It doesn’t matter what you think, it just matters what will actually happen.


I relied on this a lot. There were quite a few things I wanted to put into the book (like a chapter about time and Japan), but there just wasn’t the material to tie it together. Since I wanted to teach people, I dropped them. There were some progressions I liked, but since they wouldn’t help an ambitious reader improve their life now, they also got the axe. At times I would be confused about what to cut out, and then I would refer back to the goal and it would be obvious.


Another frame is to just accept the errors, and trust that they’ll be made up for with better data. This is hard, but once you see that strategy work a few times, you start to trust it.


On the project, we were able to do this because we had test readers looking at the book as it was being written. Rather than spend more time arranging the posts, I could just ask Louis what he thought of them. If he liked it, awesome, then maybe a few more tweaks. If something didn’t work, he’d tell me.


There are lots of internal reasons to go slowly.


If you want to beat them, you should probably just buy IKIGAI and read it, there’s lots of good stuff about how to beat it in there, particularly the Growing section.


Observation and Action may be covered in a later post.


An OODA Perspective on The One Week Book

December 22, 2011

Originally, the plan was to find organize core posts and auxiliary posts into chunks, those chunks into chapters, those chapters into sections, and those sections into a book. This was fine and dandy, but it basically failed to account for that it assumed that I would have any idea what would be turned into the book. […]

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